Monday, October 31, 2011

Booth Review: Little Brother, Big Numbers

Abilene Christian and Texas A&M-Commerce each lived up to its name Saturday: the former demonstrating that it is indeed better to give than receive, and the latter exercising the kind of free trade that even NAFTA couldn't have conjured up.

The two teams turned the ball over five times apiece in a bumbling, 40-28 ACU victory that at once moved the Wildcats (6-2) closer to becoming a playoff team while casting serious doubt as to whether or not they legitimately resemble one.

But looks can sometimes deceive. Daryl Richardson is living proof. The senior running back bears in his physical appearance a striking similarity to his older brother, Bernard Scott and, as of Saturday, now has a resume that few others besides Scott can match.

Saturday against Commerce, Richardson rushed for 170 yards and two touchdowns. The first, a 78-yard 1st quarter sprint down the visitors' sideline, tied him with Scott's and his first cousin, Edmond Gates, for the third most total TDs in ACU history. The second, a 46-yard burst up the middle, gave him sole possession of a very distant third behind Scott and Wilbert Montgomery.

I don't know of anyone who thinks of Richardson as one of the best backs in ACU history, probably in part because he isn't even the best runner in his own family and at times since arriving in 2009 hasn't even been thought of as the best on his own team. But crunch the following numbers and then tell me what you think:
  • 32 games
  • 30 rushing TDs (Wilbert Montgomery, 66; and Scott, 63)
  • 33 total TDs (Montgomery, 76; and Scott, 73)
  • 2,012 rushing yards (9th all-time) on 406 carries (4.95 yards/rush)
  • 661 receiving yards on 74 catches
  • 2,673 all-purpose yards
Those aren't empty stats either. Richardson scored the game-winning touchdown this year against Tarleton State and both Midwestern State and West Texas A&M last year - not to mention a boatload of big afternoons and nights, including 10 multiple-touchdown games.

If Richardson's body of work sneaks up on you like it did me, perhaps it's because his physical body looks so much like Scott's and, therefore, we subconsciously compare the production of one to the other. Which, of course, is completely unfair. There likely will never be another Bernard Scott - at ACU or anywhere in Division II.

Richardson came to ACU from Cisco Junior College in 2009. He arrived on campus rather incognito, in part because his cognito wasn't "Scott." Word began spreading prior to August training camp that Bernard's baby brother had joined the team, but there was nothing on the preseason depth chart to give Richardson away. There were no Scotts (the brothers have the same parents, but Bernard has his mother's maiden name). There were no running backs from Vernon (Richardson played high school ball in Jacksonville, Fla., where he lived with his father).

And there was no guarantee how much playing time he'd get. Richardson was merely one of three running backs brought in for the 2009 season to try to fill the Grand Canyon of a hole left by Scott (now with the Cincinnati Bengals), who in two seasons became ACU's all-time leading rusher with 4,321 yards and scored 73 touchdowns - three fewer than Wilbert Montgomery's school record.

Richardson wasn't even the most highly-touted of the three new backs in '09. The rage was over Justin Johnson, a transfer from the University of Oklahoma where he'd played in 10 games, including the one for the national championship that OU lost to Florida, 24-14. It was Johnson who got the start in the season opener against Northwest Missouri State on national television. Unfortunately, he was barely Sooner said than done. Played just seven games, had only one touchdown - albeit big, a 100-yard kickoff return to help ACU rally past Eastern New Mexico - and quit the team.

Richardson would be the third running back to see playing time in that first game after Johnson and Reggie Brown. Only then was Richardson's cover blown. You could tell from his face and physique, if not his first few plays (9 rushes for 28 yards, 3 catches for 10 in that season opener), which one was Baby Bernard.

It wasn't long before he showed a similarly uncanny knack for finding the end zone. Richardson scored his first two ACU touchdowns in the second game of 2009 and two more the next week against Commerce in a soggy Cotton Bowl en route to a 17 TD (16 rushing) season, which was the second most in the LSC that year.

Perhaps most amazing about Richardson's productivity is that at no point in his nearly three seasons has he been the clear No. 1 starter - in part because of a variety of minor but nagging injuries. Whereas Scott carried the ball nearly five times as much as any other teammate, Richardson essentially split the workload with Reggie Brown 50-50 in 2009 and only accounted for one-third of the team's rushes last season. This year, even after starting the season with a sore hamstring, he's finally become the featured back, carrying 92 of the team's approximately 200 called run plays.

The season opener against Tarleton might actually be a microcosm of his ACU career. Slowed by the bad hammy, Richardson didn't get a single carry that night and didn't even enter the game until the first play of the 4th quarter. That play was a 27-yard swing pass to Richardson from QB Mitchell Gale. ACU's last offensive play of the night? A desperation shot-put from a scrambling Gale to Richardson, who turned it into a 23-yard touchdown with 1:09 to go that proved to be the game winner. Two touches, two dynamic plays - yet not quite as healthy as a horse needs to be for an offense to really take off.

I have a feeling history will be more flattering than our present perceptions, and record book ink may prove more indelible than any image Richardson leaves in our minds' eyes.

Like I wrote after the Angelo State game about letting this offense become whatever it will become instead of comparing it to the juggernauts of past years, I hope we can appreciate what we're seeing in Daryl Richardson.

The irony is this: the more he resembles his big brother the rest of this season, the more ACU will resemble a playoff team.

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